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Third Digital Documentary

A Theory and Practice of Transmedia Arts Activism, Critical Design and Ethics

Anita Wen-Shin Chang

This book offers a theory and methodology of transmedia arts activism within the technocultural and sociopolitical landscape of expanded documentary production, distribution, reception and participation. Through a detailed analysis of the author’s transmedia project on indigenous and minority language endangerment and revival that consists of the feature-length documentary Tongues of Heaven and the companion web application Root Tongue: Sharing Stories of Language Identity and Revival, she reveals the layers and depths of a critical arts practice when confronted with complex sociopolitical issues while working with multiple communities across territorial/national boundaries. In the context of the growing field of transmedia documentaries, the author discusses the potentials and benefits of a critical design practice and production ethics that can transform this field to pilot new collaborations in documentary and digital media platforms towards a third digital documentary.
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Chapter 1 A Discourse of ‘Image Sovereignty’: Variations on an Ideal/Image of Native Self-Representation


Modernity’s Primitive Other

One of the early steps toward a third digital documentary encompasses developing the critical empirical and knowledge bases of the social issues at hand. These bases hone understanding of the key areas where a digital documentary might intervene, and become the guide for ethical, activist and artistic approaches to representing the social issues. In the case study of the Tongues of Heaven documentary that deals with the endangerment and revival of indigenous languages, representational challenges involving indigenous peoples were a major consideration. In order to effectively respond to and intervene in the praxis of indigenous self-representation, this necessitated historical research into ‘native’ self-representation, particularly in its engagement with the term ‘native’ – as topic, object and subject – and its attending discourse and practices of authenticity, ethnography, salvage ethnography and autoethnography.1 One of Tongues of Heaven’s critical projects is to consider alternative means of representation that acknowledges the history, traditions and tendencies of ‘native’ representations by ‘non-natives’ and ‘natives’ themselves, in order to move toward creative expression as a biopolitical act. How ←15 | 16→and what one perceives through audio-visual technologies are key premises of visual sovereignty or ‘image sovereignty’, a concept that is mobilized in the Tongues of Heaven production process. This chapter charts the active career of the moving ‘native’ image through some key documentary works and writings. It then discusses the growing discourse of ‘image sovereignty’ (first coined by Māori filmmaker Barry Barclay in 2006) and its subsequent relevance to native...

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